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Dances with Webcams: The BookTube Community

Joe Carter ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The literary world has had the luxury of hitching a ride with the technological revolution at the turn of the millennium when age old practices such as letter writing and pay phones were left in the dust. The free ride ended when digital content became easily accessible and print basically had the carpet pulled out from under its feet in a cartoonish fashion. One of the latest changes to emerge is a community born from the minds of readers and is known as BookTube. As the name insinuates, it’s simply YouTube for books and has only come into existence in the past few years.

Boiled down to its core values, BookTube exists as a vlog community of readers who post videos to social media outlets to share their love and passion for reading with others just like them. They review books, share an ungodly amount of book purchases called “Book Hauls,”and even participate in a demanding week-long challenge called the “BookTube-A-Thon.”There are hundreds of Booktubers scattered within YouTube with their own channels, but Book Tube News, located at booktubenews.tumblr.com, serves as a link amongst the community. They help those new to BookTube quickly get their footing and provide a directory of Booktubers that makes navigation a cinch.

The BookTube community is challenging to label since it barely exists as a subcategory of YouTube and has next to no singular location on the internet excluding Book Tube News. They are not a clique since they don’t judge the fall fashion line-up or gossip in gym class; and they are not a book club since they don’t drink copious amount of wine then hit-on the pool boy. BookTube can accurately be described as a wolf pack… but one of the friendly, fluffy, TV animated ones.

Booktubers hunt their literary prey in the crisp milky light of the full moon and strategically take down the novel before it can limply escape. Then they bring it back to their page strewn den to share with the rest of the pack and they all feast on the art of writing like kings of the storytelling forest. They do all this in the fluffy-wolf-pack manner that makes any member/spectator of the community feel comfortable and free as they would with a friend. They will share any and all thoughts they have on a book. Professional authors beware.

Within the BookTube pack, Booktubers trust and heavily impact each other like an actual family/wolf pack. Their communication spans at least the entirety of the United States and the United Kingdom. In spite of being geographically spread out, many have met up at events such as BookCon and forged strong friendships. Booktubers are constantly making guest appearances on their friends’channels or leading discussions. They approach the ancient practice of storytelling together and bond in ways the public believes are disappearing due to social media.

Given the way they conduct themselves and the media platform in which they exist, it seems only logical that they would reign over the same kingdom as Goodreads. That is not the case. BookTube seems to have little to no influence on the world beyond their pack. The highest- quality Booktubers attract only a little over 200,000 views with the most popular video of their BookTube career and average out at around 50,000 views with their run-of-the-mill videos. Those outside the community spotlight attract around 1,000 views at best. It’s not a stunning amount of viewership for the kind of internet traffic that YouTube is infamous for having. YouTube is the Times Square of the internet and BookTube is a falafel vendor. It’s difficult to hear them above the noise and they’re selling something people who spend time watching videos probably don’t want.

A cause of this almost invisible existence could be how they are perceived by outsiders. The large majority of their vloggers are in their teens or early twenties which can cause more mature viewers to write them off as unreliable. They don’t want to be told what to read by someone who doesn’t remember the Regan administration.

Young Adult genre literature is also king in the world of BookTube. YA has had a bad reputation of being junk food for the brain, but those backing up the junk argument should throw a quick glance at such novels as The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders which have earned their way to a spot in the public school curriculum. YA has also become a faithful cash cow for the publishing industry where print and digital are shaking tradition in their epic Olympian styled war for dominance. As essential as YA has become, its overbearing presence in the BookTube community isolates a large demographic of readers who would love to see book reviews and participate in discussions on classic, adult, or non-fiction genres.

People ages thirty and up may also feel uncomfortable joining a community of primarily twenty year olds and teenagers since there is a “cyber creep”stigma attached to that kind of communication across generations. They also may not be tech savvy enough to create a vlog which is a problem young people are well acquainted with like the time mom couldn’t figure out how to turn on the vacuum cleaner. True story by the way.

Another issue the BookTube community may be facing is their own innocence. They lack corporate involvement with the exclusion of advertisements interrupting a few videos. Goodreads on the other hand has a wider span of influence due to their professionalism and pretty web design. In hipster speak, “Goodreads is the evil bloodsucking corporation that stands to make a profit over people’s opinions of the written word, which is free by the way. Writing is free. And so is reading and BookTube understands that inherent power. Plus BookTube has that beautiful charm, like Brooklyn.”

But the hipster would be wrong because Goodreads is free to join and Booktubers are constantly sharing links to reviews they have posted to Goodreads. BookTube is as much a part of Goodreads as it is a part of YouTube. After all, Goodreads and BookTube share the same mission statement. That kind of camaraderie has probably allowed BookTube to last as long as it has and gain wider exposure while other social media experiments have failed in the making. In the face of all this, BookTube is still growing under the shadows of larger internet entities. Although they may currently have no substantial sway over the reading world, the scholastic wolf pack has two major assets that could help it gain some sovereignty.

One thing that makes BookTube the YouTube of books is the medium of their message. The visual aspect of the videos unsurprisingly evokes something characteristic of their community. Their vlogs are more personal and add humanity to an otherwise verbose book review. The Booktuber can add a little bit of themselves, literally, into each video by having a conversation (granted, a one-way conversation) with their audience. Booktubers are also set apart from simple internet critics because they have the courage to face those they are critiquing. Their face is displayed for all the world to see.

That being said, Booktube’s other invaluable asset is their talent. Some of their main headliners are polandbananasBOOKS, jessethereader, and Ariel Bissett who are basically the English teachers every American high school graduate never had the privilege to see in a classroom. They have an unparalleled passion for novels, full comprehension of material, and more charisma and charm than an orphan choir performing in Disney World at Christmastime. It’s a crime that their average viewership is comparable to the population of Banbury, England. A lovely consolation is the fact that they exist and are sharing their opinions in an articulate manner.

BookTube is only growing and developing as the days pass. A handful of purists have raised some issues with fellow Booktubers but their wolf pack remains relatively unaffected by the grievances. Those with an intelligent statement get their message across and unfortunately so do the unintelligent ones because the internet has no shortage of vocal individuals. Booktubers share the love they feel for books and are more than happy when someone new comes along with the same passion.

So far it seems their reach is limited to the borders of the BookTube kingdom, but they’ve shown no desire for control over the masses. They are very pure and straightforward. Some have made a profit from their videos, but it’s usually treated as a happy side effect of doing something they love. BookTube has no drive to expand and gain publicity and true booklovers seem to still find their way to this quaint digital wolf den.

BookTube is exactly where it wants to be in the present moment and it wouldn’t be very likely for them to take the world by storm under their current conditions. They have a limited demographic and almost no way to reel in those who partake in the film and the Netflix rather than the Roth and the Rowling. It wouldn’t be unheard of for this community to grow astronomically in the coming years given all the right videos in all the right places so writing off BookTube as an infinitesimal fad would be a foolish decision. Stranger things have happened, for example the last thirty years of the 20th century. And authors, if you find your novel savagely ripped apart, it was either the BookTube wolf pack or the English department.

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